15 March 2008

Henry Crowder / Nancy Cunard. Henry Music, Paris, 1930 + Negro Anthology 1934.

Henry Crowder. HENRY-MUSIC. Hours Press, Paris 1930.

Current Selling Prices
$7500+ /£3600+

NEGRO. ANTHOLOGY ( Made By Nancy Cunard.) Nancy Cunard at Wishart and Company, London, 1934.

Current Selling Prices
$5500-$8000 /£2800-£4000

'Henry-Music' is a marvelous book to find. In great condition it is worth £5000 and more, but as there were only 150 copies printed it is necessarily rare. When I started in this game in the late 1970s, amongst raffish young dealers it was one of a mantra of rare and treasured books one hoped to find, but seldom did - Globe by the Way Book, Quinzaine for This Yule, Beeton's Christmas Annual, Hobbit, Astra Castra, Questions at the Well, Bear Fell Free, Gent from Bear Creek and so on. The legend of Nancy Cunard is still potent and there are several studies of her in preparation and several biographies, one from 2007. She is now seen as an important figure for her brave and tireless activism in racial politics and civil rights -in print ('Negro Anthology' + the 1931 pamphlet Black Man and White Ladyship, an attack on racist attitudes) and in her political work-- her account of the Scottsboro Boys case was important in bringing world attention to a huge injustice. One poem that she contributed to this book of her lover Henry Crowder's music was recently compared to the work of ICE-T by an earnest scholar in the USA. It is 'Equatorial Way'
'Goin to drink to the last damnation
Of the son o' bitch U.S.A.
Going to send for a conflagration
From down equatorial way...
Last advice to the crackers:
Bake your own white meat -
Last advice to the lynchers:
Hang your brother by the feet.'
Certainly it has the energy and rhythm and anger of modern rap music. Other contributors to this beautiful book with its surrealist Man Ray photomontage covers were Richard Aldington, Harold Acton, Samuel Beckett and Walter Lowenfels. Henry Crowder (1890-1955) is shown top left. He was born Gainesville, Georgia and established himself as a pianist and orchestra leader in Washington, D.C in the 1910s, working alongside Russell Wooding and Duke Ellington. Drafted in 1917 while leading an orchestra at Harvey's Restaurant he was briefly chauffeur to General March. He moved to Chicago in the early 1920s, making piano rolls in 1926, later touring with Jelly Roll Morton. He recorded with violinist Eddie South's Alabamians 1927-1928. They travelled to Europe where, in Venice, Crowder and Nancy (heiress to a shipping fortune) met. They embarked on a turbulent seven year relationship, which culminated in the production of Cunard's monumental 1934 Negro: An Anthology (dedicated to Crowder.) All the songs in Henry Music which have a musical score by HC were supposed to have been recorded but only one disc, with Cunard's "Memory Blues" aka "Boeuf sur le toit", is thought to have been released. It is included on a CD which comes with a recent book by Anthony Barnett - 'Listening for Henry Crowder: A Monograph on His Almost Lost Music With the Poems and Music of Henry-Music (ISBN 0907954367 from Allardyce Barnett Publishers. )

Nancy was, like her contemporary Harry Crosby, 'electric with rebellion' and ran with a fast crowd as an expatriate woman in Paris - they dubbed themselves the 'Corrupt Coterie'. Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound and Louis Aragon were among her lovers. Sylvia Pankhurst, Janet Flanner, Solita Solano, Kay Boyle, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Norman Douglas were life-long friends. All the books from her 'Hours Press' are collectable with 'Henry Music' probably being the most valuable, although limited editions of Pound's Draft of XXX Cantos and Beckett's Whoroscope are up there in value. There were 100 numbered and signed copies of 'Henry-Music' + 50 unnumbered and signed for private dedications; these latter copies are particularly treasured.

VALUE? 'Henry-Music' is most collected as a Beckett item and represents a heavy investment for any Beckett obsessed completist. Ropey copies have passed through auction at around $1500, but a reasonable copy will always be in advance of $5000 unless you find it overlooked with a pile of 1930s music or lotted with a bunch of outdated art books; the Beckett name on the cover means that it will be spotted by all but the dimmest dealers. You can buy a books published by the Hours Press for as low as £30 --say Aldington's 'Last Straws' or even Roy Campbell's poems. For $250 at the San Francisco book Fair I bought a decent Hours Press Brian Howard ('God save the King') with its John Banting covers and I'm hoping to keep it for a while. There are photos of Henry and Nancy working at the printing press together and it is pleasing to think they may have had a hand in the making of Brian Howard's only book.

OUTLOOK? Nancy Cunard, the Hours Press and the whole 'Published in Paris' schtick were in abeyance a few years back but there are encouraging signs of a revival. Neil Pearson's excellent book on the Obelisk Press, Paris 'A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press' was recently well received and got a deal of publicity. There is a lot of interest in Nancy, often from academics in women's studies; her civil rights work is more relevant than ever and she is an enduring fashion icon. Did anyone ever wear more bangles? Some can be seen in Man Ray's photomontage above. Her 'Negro Anthology' (Wishart, London 1934) seems to be holding its own at about $5000 and more for sharp copies - it has made as much as £5000 (2003) in auction; condition is important, as a large book it can turn up slightly shabby. This is an easier book to find that Henry-Music as there were a 1000 copies. It is said there were copies unsold in the 1960s and it could be bought then as a remainder; one school of thought attributes its rarity to copies being destroyed in the Blitz. Trouble with that theory is the book is not rare, just expensive.

The value comes from the wonderful panoply of contributors - Samuel Beckett (translated 19 of the articles), Ezra Pound, Dreiser, Claude McKay, Zora Neal Hurston, Jomo Kenyatta, Harold Acton, George Padmore, William Carlos Williams, Norman Douglas, Louis Zukofsy, Edgell Rickword, William Plomer, the Paris Surrealist Group, George Antheil, Henry Crowder, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Alfred Kreymborg. There are 6 copies for sale at ABE right now, a copy sold last week at Bloomsbury / Ebay for £2400 + the juice (like other copies I have seen it was slightly affected by damp.) Just one 'beautiful' copy of 'Henry-Music' sits on the web at $15000 with a very high end dealer, a rather modest price for them. It could sell over the weekend or sit there till Bush ignominiously leaves office. The last copy in auction was the Constance Bullock-Davies copy in 2001 which made £1800, an out-of-series copy in the original illustrated boards, condition not noted. As far back as 1977 a copy (warmly inscribed by Crowder to Augustus John) made $1900.


Pierce H. Parker said...
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Anonymous said...

For more information on both these books, see Wendy A. Grossman, "Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens." The background on these two books, Cunard's activities with African art, and Man Ray's involvement with these activities is thoroughly covered in this highly readable and fascinating exhibition catalogue. Copiously illustrated.